Curating the precious clutter

AIC copyWhen I first walked into the archives of the Art Museum in Cincinnati, I had no idea that the amount of stored art out-weighed that available to the public. Shelves and drawers full of items that museum curators – those with expertise in art history – had determined  were not as valuable to the public as those on display. Without enough room for display these articles would overwhelm the museum goer – too much clutter of precious work – in just one museum in a minor city.

Content curation is new buzz word for dealing with information overload. It to refers to the task of determining which of thousands of entries will be chosen and high-lighted as current news for people interested in specific topics – from fashions for women’s shoes, or use of allusions in movies to politician’s statements on gun control.

Curation of data is something that human have been grappling with for eons. Look up at the sky and there are too many stars to keep track of, even with the limited visibility due to current light pollution. Yet, when thousands more were visible humans relied on knowing the position of specific stars in order to navigate and track time. Human factors research has been around for a while to point out the irony of too much usuable information. Tasks such as flying an aircraft become less safe at a point when the pilot reaches a state of cognitive overload from all the indicators (altitude, attitude,  fuel consumption, engine speed, engine temperature,wind speed, outside air temperature etc.) available to help him fly. Now most of us are facing problems with the limits of human ability to integrate all the data that a computer can display.

It is necessary for teachers to show students not only how to use technology, but also how to keep track of what is important so they are not overloaded. One doesn’t have to have a masters degree in a subject – like the museum curators did – to claim expertise at Internet content curation.  One simply has to collect and repost data, hoping others see their collection to be of value.

The basic steps for dealing with the informational deluge are recording data and reorganizing it based on your own priorities. There are plenty of tools for this. However,  first you must decide your overarching approach to controlling the flood of data:

1) Narrow the topic at beginning (based on someone else’s input) and take copious notes to describe a comprehensive picture of that topic.

2) Select a broad topic and read as much as possible, retaining only the reference information until arriving at an intriguing aspect (i.e., your own narrow topic). Then, go back and reread and write down the details.

When collecting information for research in past I would attempt to select a narrow topic (for example, inequities in Internet access) and and take copious notes on everything I read, only to discard large amounts because I discover a curious correlation (such as Internet access based on ethnic background in the United States) and decide to concentrate on it. So now I typically choose option number 2.

The next step is review and select a way to store and review information. Content curation is actually another technology to learn. A list of curation tools cited frequently in response to a recent inquiry on Quora include:


But perhaps I am over thinking this whole business of content curation. Maybe it is simply a fancy word for reposting, such as done by content curators on Pinterest and Tumblr – they simply repost what suits their fancy.

Photo montage from collection at Art Institute of Chicago

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